Barnabite Spirituality e-library
ST. ANTHONY M. ZACCARIA AND LUKEWARMNESS by Fr. Giuseppe M. Cagni, CRSP
4.1 Distinction between Precepts and Counsels
4.1.d. Dangers in the Distinction
4.2. The Natural Instinct
4.2.a "Natural Instinct" or "Supernatural Instinct"
4.2.b. Qualities and Shortcomings of the Natural Instinct
4.3. The Honor of one’s own Family
5. Conclusion: The Banish Against Lukewarmness
Part II: Practical Aspect - How to Banish Lukewarmness
1. The Fight According To St. Anthony M. Zaccaria
2. The Fight and Its Stages Inside Us
2.1.a Natural Presuppositions
2.1.b. Supernatural Presuppositions
3. Stages of the Work
3.1. Negative Stage
3.1.a Community Life
3.1.b. Personal Life
3.2. Positive Stage
3.2.a The Mind
3.2.b. The Heart
3.2.c. Giving Power
ST. ANTHONY M. ZACCARIA AND LUKEWARMNESS
By Fr. Giuseppe M. Cagni, CRSP
Translated by: Fr. Frank Papa, CRSP
Edited by: Ms. Fran Stahlecker, Tina Tekirian, Ph.D.
and Sr. Rorivic Israel, ASP
The foundation of every religious order is associated with a unique “mystery of transparency.” The new manner in which a founder or foundress incarnates this mystery reflects a particular aspect of the divine essence. The duration of time in which this divine essence is communicated via the mechanism of religious life is, of course, as in all things—dependent upon divine providence.
To date, we Barnabites have not concerned ourselves yet on what Divine Perfection is calling our Congregation to reveal to the world. However, we would like to delve into this topic and begin to do so with the article in hand. Father Barzaghi, Cardinal Gerdil, Fr. Boffito, and Fr. Semeria, have been defined as “perfect Barnabites.” So, there is something that goes way beyond the science, the gentlemanlikeness, the popular apostolate that constitutes the Barnabite spirit, and to know this spirit means to have the ability to incarnate it.
Let the very words of our Holy Founder, Saint Anthony Mary Zaccaria, be our introduction, “My desire has always been to see a constant growth in you. Whenever it seems to me that you are not scrupulously responding to my desires, though you may have done it by ignorance or simply unintentionally, and not by malice, it is like a stab into my heart.”1
It is a well-known phrase not only because it is very practical but also because in various ways it keeps coming back in all the writings of the Holy Founder. His themes are “grow” and “outdo each other moment by moment,” continuously accepting the responsibility and possibility of growth in each instant of life. To understand Anthony Mary's desire for fullness of life is to understand his hatred for lukewarmness; it is to understand his death at the age of 36, surrounded by the flourishing of activities he had created; it means to understand the word “reformer,” as he defines it as the one who leads others to authentic Christianity. Therefore, to understand Anthony Mary's desire for fullness of life is to understand how he, responding to a very imperative need of his time, had enriched the Church with enduring institutes.
We, with a child-like innocence, but also with the essential objectivity of a historical study, will examine the thoughts and the works of the Holy Founder about this essential element of his spirituality.
Part I: Theoretical Aspect
WHY LUKEWARMNESS MUST BE BANISHED
As in any of the transient eras, the 1500’s was associated with great interior struggles. The medieval world had impregnated every aspect of life with Christianity, and the whole was flowing with ease and spontaneity. However, as soon as it was challenged by secularism, Christianity became for many just a formality. Many times unable to free themselves from it, they dragged Christianity along without worrying about any coherence.
Remember the diatribes of Fra Battista da Crema against the “empty Christianity” of the 1500's, scrupulous about minute prescriptions but callous about the serious demands of the Gospel. Remember his lashing irony against the ignorance of the Holy Mass, the pride of the rich, the stupidity of the nobles, and the shallowness of those reducing Mass attendance to a show of dresses, fancy books, and purses.
The superficiality of the laity reduced Christianity to the external observance of commands, corresponding to the frightful decadence of the clergy, about whom Serafino da Fermo (Anthony Mary’s intimate friend) wrote, “Who are those in charge of leading the poor souls today? I would not say, because unfortunately they are well known. Better for them they were not created, for they only lead themselves and others to perdition. It is a confirmation of the words of the Gospel that say, ‘They are blind people leading other blind people;’ therefore, ‘they all fall into the pit of sin.’”
Anthony Mary has less vehement words about these clergy, “if they could be called saints,” they are “hypocrites” who “open the door for others and teach them, but they do not teach themselves. What’s the use of settling the quarrels of others and not your own? What’s the use of urging others to overcome their passions, if you do not conquer your own?”2
There were good reasons for this common saying during the 1500's, “If you want to be sure to go to hell, become a priest!” To realize how depraved the priestly discipline had become, consider how the theologians of the time provided wrong directions concerning sins, in the fear that the confessor might lead the penitent to sin!
This, in short, is the disheartening picture of the religious life in the 1500's. The Holy Founder did not only denounce it, he also provided an analysis and studied its genesis.
“Do you want to know where it comes from? It is one of three causes, or all of them together.”3 Unfortunately, the Holy Founder was not able to develop the content concerning these three causes, as he desired. In the original manuscript, he entitled Sermon VI, The Three Causes of Negligence and Lukewarmness in the Way of God, but then he crossed the words “Three Causes,” and wrote “One Cause,” with the subtitle, “First Sermon”. This was a sure indication that his intention was to deal with the other two as “Second Sermon” and “Third Sermon” respectively in the remaining sheets, which regrettably remain without words today.
“It is one of three causes,” Anthony Mary says, and then he continues, “For now, let us begin with the first one.”4 For us, it is the only one. But he is so exhaustive in the first one that we do not miss so much the other two. “Some say, ‘there is no need to do so much good or so many things, only few things are required; others are optional, superfluous, and unnecessary. All this praying; all this self-abasement; all this self-chastisement, giving away one's property to the poor; all this over-doing things in the realm of religion; well, it is simply uncalled for!’”5
Here, we touch upon a very common mentality of the 1500's, since the phrases of these “some” who are called “poor people” and “pitiable” are quoted by other authors of the time. Indeed, Anthony Mary keeps repeating them in reprove, “Absolutely you have to watch yourself from saying, ‘I do not want to do so much good,’ because in that case, you would be in danger.”6 And, “Surely it is a great shame for some servants of God to say, ‘for me it is enough to honor God up to this point.’”7 In the Constitutions he says, “When you hear many, especially Superiors, say words like, ‘it is enough with this; let us not care about so much perfection,’ it is a sign of lukewarmness.”8
Therefore, lukewarmness is caused by a lack of generosity in those who, relying on a wrong understanding of the distinction between precepts and counsels, limit themselves to a minimal effort. “He wants the good but not the whole of it, so he curbs himself only partially because he does not want to do it in its totality, and I say, not only for once or for a short time, but often and for a long time, like a habit.”9
2. The Answer by the Saint
As an answer, Anthony Mary denies with very precise words the distinction between precepts and counsels, which had been devised in the way of God to promote generosity so as not to condone mediocrity.
To better understand the implacable fury of Anthony Mary’s fight against lukewarmness, we go back to the One who first of all pinpointed its existence and the damages it would cause.
Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 5: What do you do “more than” or “greater than” others? Murder was forbidden; from now on even an insult is forbidden. Up until now it was forbidden to retort vengeance except with justice (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth); from now on charity should be the answer while forgiving all injuries. Up until now one had to be responsible for any offensive word; from now on even an unnecessary or inconsiderate word which, by its very nature, would prove better than any speech, reveals that one is interiorly absent and distracted, and is wasting life. Otherwise, what's so extraordinary that you do more than others? To love friends, to hate enemies, to greet those who greet you and to avoid those whom you do not like: “What is so praiseworthy about that? Do not pagans do as much?”10 Conclusion: “If your justice does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God.”11
The Pharisees are people who observe even the minimum prescriptions of the law. Jesus knows that. But what he reproves them for is not their strict observance of the law, but rather the conviction that there is nothing else beyond that. The Pharisees have no conformism, no immobility, and no fear to outdo each other in progress. For Jesus’ disciples, they cannot be like that. Jesus “came so that they might have life and have it to the full!”12
This fullness of life is what challenges the Christian to bring to perfection the spiritual identity outlined for him by God from eternity, always going beyond the present status which does not constitute his “ego” but is only a stage on the journey toward his definitive being. Then, it becomes simpler to understand that authentic life corresponds to constantly going forward, that is, progressing continuously in union with Christ himself against whom we measure our perfection.13 Through this process, the imperfection of our being is reduced while, because we are finite, it will always remain and will continue to grow in us. It becomes also easier to understand the position of lukewarmness, the renunciation to this fullness of life, the lack of coherence with ourselves, and the deaf ears we have to God's call toward perfection. 14 Taking note of the passages in the Sermons (75, 106-107, 122-123), we will quote the letter to the Omodeis:
“For if you let lukewarmness ensnare you, your life in the spirit will be overcome by the flesh and, to use the proper word, you will become Pharisees rather than Christians and spiritual persons.
Now, here is how the lukewarm - the Pharisee - behaves. Having left his old ways, he does not commit big sins any longer but takes pleasure in little ones and does not feel remorse for them. For instance, he stops blaspheming and insulting his neighbor, but he attaches no importance to getting somewhat upset and to insisting on his own opinion rather than to giving in to his opponent. Speaking evil of others is no longer a bad habit of his, but indulging quite often in vain and useless chatting during the day is not much of a sin to him. He got rid of eating too much and drinking excessively as drunkards do, but he enjoys snacking here and there, between meals, without necessity. The vicious habits of the flesh are a thing of the past for him, but he takes delight in conversations and entertainments that are not so clean. He loves to spend hours in prayer, but during the rest of the day his spirit wanders aimlessly. He no longer seeks honors, but if they are given him, he gloats over them.
I have given some examples; you can multiply them. Be sure to conclude that the Pharisee or lukewarm person works at getting rid of serious sins but allows himself to commit little ones. He eliminates all illicit things but desires everything that is considered licit”15
This reminds us of a phrase common to his time, “There is no need to kill oneself to become a saint, since some things are only counsels while others are precepts.” We have seen that Anthony Mary does not accept this reasoning. Let us see why.
4. The Doctrine of “Going Always Forward”
No one can dispute the importance of making progress in spiritual life. No one can justify his lukewarmness with the excuse that there is a distinction between what is commanded and what is recommended, because:
1. This distinction does not exist in the ontological order, but it is only a psychological device to promote lukewarmness;
2. Providence has gifted man with a natural instinct prompting each individual to constantly outdo himself;
3. For the members of the St. Paul family, the Barnabites, the Angelics, and the Laity of St. Paul, it is also a question of blood not to be degenerate children of their own fathers who have reached an extraordinary level of holiness.
These three most important elements need to be examined further.
4. 1. Distinction between Precepts and Counsels
A precept is a compulsory injunction to moral conduct; it is a procedural directive or rule.
A counsel is an advice or an opinion given to direct human conduct.
Let us follow our Holy Founder’s reasoning:
4.1. a. Existence
This distinction exists on the bases of Scripture: “It is true that some of the things are precepts while some others are counsels. Christ told the one who asked him what to do to be able to enter Paradise: ‘Keep the commandments.’ When this insisted that he had kept them since his youth, Christ added, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, etc.’16 Christ also said, ‘There are some who have freely renounced sex for the sake of God’s reign,’ and he immediately added, ‘Let him accept this teaching who can.’”17 “And Paul, speaking about virginity, said: ‘I am just giving a counsel, etc.’18 From all these statements the distinction we are talking about is drawn.”19 But...
Yes, there is a “but” which is missed by the eyes of the lukewarm, yet it is fundamental. “Do you wish then, to know the reason why such a distinction was made? It was made to combat lukewarmness.”20 “How? Listen. Some, as they saw the awesome perfection demanded by Christian living: the strict control of one's mind, the strict control of one's heart, the strict control of one's tongue, the austerity of life and modesty in conversation, etc., felt bewildered and despaired of ever achieving any degree of goodness, let alone perfection. Observing this, some saints21 came up with the above-mentioned distinction so that people, encouraged by this, would be able to begin to act. Then, upon reaching certain stability, they would slowly rise toward perfection.”22 This distinction then is only psychological. It exists, but it is temporary, so as not to discourage the beginners to be caught into God’s realm, 23 and afterwards, hopelessly and by necessity, will not turn back, but will progress all the way to the “summit of perfection.”24
Why “hopelessly” and “by necessity?” Because the Holy Founder affirms that spiritual experience, by its very nature, is captivating. The more closely we unite ourselves to God, the less we feel the lure of the flesh. “Your spirit then, as it attaches itself to God, becomes simpler and spiritual and, therefore, ‘Once (it) tastes the spiritual things, the carnal ones lose their taste.’”25 What is difficult is to convince ourselves to enter into this trend. As we know, once we are inside, it will carry us along. “So, start to do what is good and, as a consequence, you will make progress and you will become better.”26
This is why in Sermon V the Holy Founder calls “blessed” those who are able to taste once of this inner joy. “It is imperative in the spiritual life not to go backward and not to stop; instead, as soon as you taste it, you progress day by day and, forgetting the past, you look forward to the future.27 Spiritual life is like food; the more you eat it, the more you desire it. It is also like a drink that when you have tasted it, you would wish to have more.28 In a certain sense, it quenches and causes your thirst. Those who do not taste it, do not understand, and those who have not experienced it, do not know its effects.”29
Is spiritual life then a spiritual drunkenness? No. Spiritual life is a clear openness and understanding of the realities, which either satisfy you or dissatisfy you. Once again, it will be Scripture which will make us understand it better.
4.1. c. Explanation
Anthony Mary understood that to eliminate this distinction would be a very demanding task, thus, he makes recourse to the Divine Word. Just as Scripture has authorized the distinction in the limits described above, so too Scripture denies it a permanent value, since its function is only to be a stepping-stone toward the fullness of Christian life. Better yet, it is like bait, which would draw us into the spiritual current and which, by its very nature, would then drag us into its whirlpool.
“Paul spoke in these terms to (Agrippa): he wanted him to be a Christian except for the chains he was preaching about.30 Oh, Paul! If your chains are so good, why do you want (Agrippa) to be a Christian without them? Almost as if Paul would answer, ‘Let him get started, and then you will see that he will not be afraid of the chains!’
Christ requested to be received into Zacchaeus’ house, but did not ask him to distribute his inheritance; nonetheless, once Zacchaeus received Christ into his house, not only did he give back what belonged to others, he also gave his own.31
Christ forgave Magdalene, 32 and she followed him after that.33 He did not tell her to do penance, to sell her own and distribute it to the poor; yet, she did penance and distributed her own to the poor.
So, start to do what is good and, as a consequence, you will make progress and you will become better.”34
Note that Paul wrote his words with irony as he looked at his chains! Anthony Mary goes a little further capturing Paul’s spiritual meaning.35 Paul, instead of emphasizing the positive aspect of Christian life, proposed the negative: renunciation and crucifixion. Most probably his hearers had said, “A little more, Paul, and you will have made a Christian out of me.”36
Had Christ asked Zaccheus to repair the evil he did to others, instead of inviting himself to his house, Zaccheus would have told him to get lost. If Magdalene, at the moment of her conversion, had not had a clear vision of the life of penance needed to redeem herself, perhaps she would have stayed in her sins. Instead, transformed with good words and now involved in the stream of Christian life, both of them, Zaccheus and Magdalene assumed a new mentality that brought forth a new adventure for them.
Even in the Constitutions, Anthony Mary says that although “external prayer by itself, especially if it does not lead to mental prayer, or better, if it is not part of it, is only an exterior satisfaction and mimicry of true prayer or of the true spiritual food.”37 And “note that external, or vocal, prayer has been devised in order that we, inspired by its taste and meaningfulness, may at last begin to learn interior prayer.”38 So Anthony Mary justifies his conclusion, “start to do what is good and, as a consequence, you will make progress and you will become better.”39
4.1.d. Dangers in the Distinction
“How miserable we are!” Anthony Mary says, “Actually in doing good we are using that instability and indecisiveness which we should be using in avoiding evil.”40
In fact, “This distinction (between precepts and counsels), as you have by now understood, was made to remove lukewarmness and negligence from the way to God. But now, instead, it is an excuse for lukewarmness and negligence for many people. Do you know why? Because these people, not deeming those supererogatory things as necessary, disregard them and care not to practice them. So, little by little they get lukewarm and say: ‘This is enough for me -- that I save my soul by keeping the commandments. That’s enough, and I don’t care a bit for all this talking about great holiness!’ How wretched they are! They do not see that, by not trying to follow the counsels, they are in danger of not keeping the commandments either. Consider what happens to those who receive communion and go to confession just once a year, and say: ‘What good is it to go to confession so often? As for me, once a year is enough.’ You will see that they fall into blasphemy and into other sins. But you will not find in such dangerous situations those who receive Holy Communion often, both because they do not fall into sin so often, and because, if they do, they rise up more quickly.
Likewise, one is not content to live by his honest income, but wishes to gain more and get rich; or he is just so afraid of not having enough for his livelihood. Although he does not want to fall into the sin of possessing other people’s goods, in reality he already possesses them. He does so through anxiety and excessive craving. So it is in a thousand other things.
So, you may conclude by saying: whosoever wants to avoid the danger of failing to keep the commandments must follow the counsels. And who do you think is telling you this? Is it I? Not I, but Solomon. He said: ‘He, who despises small things, will fail little by little.’41 Do you want not to fall into the water? Do not get too close to it. Do you want not to disobey the commandments? Keep the counsels. Do you want not to commit mortal sins? Avoid the venial ones. Do you want to avoid even venial sins? Renounce some of the things that are licit and allowed to you. For instance, do you wish not to sin by eating with some sort of gluttony -- which is probably only a venial sin? Leave out some delectable and permitted food. Now then, you can understand that what was found useful to remove lukewarmness has become for some people the cause of this very evil.”42
This very clear and long passage justifies the starting and concluding phrase. What's left is to draw from the Holy Founder the conclusion itself of the whole paragraph. Now conclude and say, “everything has been given you in order to lead you to God, that it is imperative for you to go to God by the way of separation, and above of all, separation from lukewarmness, and that it is absolutely necessary for you to refrain from saying: ‘I do not want to do excessive good.’ For, by speaking like that, you run the risk of perturbing and reducing to a bare minimum your natural instinct which tends to do as much as it can.”43 So, since lukewarmness is not justified by the distinction between precepts and counsels, let’s see now how it goes against nature and why the coherent Christian would necessarily side against it.
4. 2. The Natural Instinct
Anthony Mary calls “natural instinct” the totality of feelings, which lead the person to its total integration, progressively healing its fundamental gaps, while conquering a balance toward a serene self-confidence. Every philosophy emphasizes this interior drive present in every human being. Let us now see how the Holy Founder has used it for an ascetical development.
4.2.a. Natural Instinct or Supernatural Instinct
Anthony Mary puts in man two instincts, one natural and the other supernatural or spiritual. The supernatural or spiritual instinct is an actual grace from God, a direct inspiration or, as Anthony Mary calls it, “an elevation of the mind by the gift of counsel,”44 which guides and sustains us in unexpected decisions.
The natural instinct instead is a disposition of nature, like an inclination or a passion given us by God, together with other “natural inclinations and passions.”45 It is constituted by a permanent satisfaction, instability, intolerance of pauses, an irrepressible need for happiness which, thank God, keeps pushing us from stagnating in a situation, however good or bad it might be. “Man by nature has a wandering mind and cannot stand still on one thing.”46 “It is quite true my very dear friends that God has made man’s spirit unstable and changeable in order that man would not abide in evildoing, and also that, once in possession of the good, he would not stop short, but would step up from one good to a higher one, and to a loftier one still. Thus, advancing from virtue to virtue, he might reach the summit of perfection. Hence it flows that man is fickle in doing evil, namely, he cannot persevere in it because he does not find repose in it. Therefore, instead of persisting in evildoing, he moves to do good; and moreover, since creatures did not give him peace, he returns to God.”47
4.2.b. Qualities and Shortcomings of the Natural Instinct
The most immediate manifestation of this instinct is like greed which, making our every desire enormous, deposits at the bottom of the soul a longing for the infinite, of the absolute, of God. “Now, tell me,” the Holy Founder questions, “do you wish to enjoy good health, entirely or only partially? To get all the good possible or only some or none of them? To acquire only so much learning and no more?”48
The answer is implicit. The Holy Founder had already stated that natural instinct “does what it can.” “It is the same for your other desires. Everyone desires the goal as much as possible. The goal of your will is the good and, therefore, you desire it in an infinite way, without any limitations.”49 We have received “an insatiable desire to taste God, to experience the incorruptibility of spirit, to feel a continuous dissatisfaction with the things of the world, and to have a constant longing for the things of heaven.”50
As we can see, the natural instinct is the driving force of any vital activity, natural or supernatural; even God does not excuse himself from this principle.51 Every man, then, lives according to the way he uses this vital interior force to grow, to reach perfection, and to put to good use the many talents given him by God. But there is a very serious danger that man “perverts” this instinct, 52 which, if methodically forgotten, will become weaker to extinction: it would be spiritual death.
Therefore, lukewarmness must be banished, and we have to allow the natural instinct, this providential force, to draw us, because, restless in mediocrity, it will by necessity lead us toward the “attainment of perfection.”53 “O you niggards! Has God not given up possessions and honors and His very own life for your sake? And–as He said–what could He have done that He has not done? 54 And here you are, trying to serve Him, to love Him, and to honor Him only in a limited degree. Never again do that. For, besides spoiling the natural instinct God has given you and refusing to pay back to God what you owe Him, you harm yourselves because you do not go forward on the way to God. And, of course, not to go forward on the way to God, and to stand still, is indeed to go backward (“Non proficere, sine dubio deficere est.”55 You see, it is like the seawater that is never still, but rather constantly moves, flowing six hours and ebbing six hours. Yes, you cannot say that it is motionless. It is the same with man in his spiritual life: either he grows in virtue or by not growing in it he stagnates in vices. In other words he says farewell to virtue and back he goes (to a lukewarm and negligent way of living).”56
To conclude, our very nature cries war to lukewarmness. The Christian, called to the fullness of Christ's life, if he does not want to be just a ruin at the end of time, must side with determination against what Anthony Mary calls “the most deadly and greatest enemy of Christ Crucified which reigns in our modern times: I mean that incredible lukewarmness.”57
4.3. The Honor of One's Own Family
The Barnabites and the Angelics of St. Paul have another reason to hate lukewarmness; this reason concerns the nobility of their heritage. “Just remember this, the one and the other blessed father, Fra Battista, have given such a proof of noble dedication to Christ Crucified, of strict control of themselves to the point of despising themselves, of longing to lead our neighbor to the attainment of perfection, that if we ourselves would not have such an infinite desire for these things, we would not consider ourselves his sons and daughters, but only bastards and mules.”58 To be worthy members of our family we are challenged to surpass even our Founders, “Perhaps those who have more fervor than their masters destroy their foundations? Or, rather, without eliminating them, they add some more, not to destroy the first, but to bring them to higher perfection and stability?”59 Indeed, this is exactly what the Founders wanted, that we, banning all negligence and cowardliness, 60 would be “stock and columns61 to renew the Christian zeal”62 This is why at the end of this most warm Letter VII, Anthony Mary has no more persuasive words than the reference to our spiritual nobility and to the greatness of our vocation, “Ah! I urge you, sons and stock of Paul, open wide yourselves63 because those who have planted and are planting you are wider than the abyss! Do not make yourselves inferior to the vocation to which you have been called! 64 If you want, from now on you could be heirs and legitimate children of our Holy Father and the great Saints, and Christ Crucified will extend his arms over you.”65
The open reference to “great” Saints goes together with the exhortation to the Angelics to conform themselves totally to Christ in imitation of the saints, but those ... “great,”66 and winds up in the accurate warning, left to us as a spiritual testament, in the last letter: “Know that my sorrow would be deep in my soul, if I were not sure you would do, not only this, but even greater things accomplished by any saint.”67 This is not pride, but a need, so that they would not be “degenerate and illegitimate children.”68
“Do not think,” Anthony Mary insists, “that my love for you or the good qualities you are endowed with, may have me desire that you be just little saints. No, I greatly desire that you become great saints, since you are well equipped to reach this goal, if you will it. All that is required is that you really mean to develop and give back to Jesus Crucified, in a more refined form, the good qualities and graces He has given you.”69 Doing so, “you will bring me fullness of joy. But if you do the contrary, you will bring me great worry, and even death.”70
5. Conclusion: The Banishment against Lukewarmness
These words of our Holy Founder have aptly exposed lukewarmness, and further justify his fury against this “awful bad effect, that is, negligence, which is completely opposite to God's way.”71 “Relaxation and tepidity hate fervor,”72 and those who are controlled by them, not only hurt themselves, but “stir up cruel battles against the fervent;” indeed, they stir up “the hardest battle of all,” 73 because this battle will determine the very possibility of leading a serious spiritual life.
This is why Anthony Mary says that the tepid are visible devils opposing God's work even more than the invisible devils, 74 and warns his followers to keep an eye, during the spiritual conferences (Collazioni) on lukewarmness to discover the very cause of its birth and growth.75 Even during the last moments of his life when his “tired body”76 was not allowing him to do what he interiorly wanted, Anthony Mary still found the strength to lash with his pen against lukewarmness, confessing to be ready to shed his blood for his children insofar as they would constantly grow.77
“On the contrary, anyone willing to become a spiritual person begins a series of surgical operations in his soul. One day he removes this, another day he removes that, and relentlessly proceeds until he lays aside his old self.”78 He prepares his “heart for God in all truth, in all simplicity, and in all sincerity. May God dwell in my heart forever through His Grace and make it His temple. Amen.”79
Part II: Practical Aspect
HOW TO BANISH LUKEWARMNESS
1. The Fight According to St. Anthony M. Zaccaria
If the Holy Founder does exaggerate his humility in his second letter, we have to say that his fury against lukewarmness derives not only from his firm character, but also from some real difficulties he was encountering in his spiritual life. “My very dear friends, I have to tell you the truth: it is mainly this irresoluteness in my soul, besides, perhaps, some other shortcomings, that has caused in me this great and blamable negligence and sluggishness to the point that either I never start anything at all or at least I linger on something for so long that I never accomplish it.”80
Seven months before, he had written to his spiritual director: “My affairs move slowly, and my negligence delays them even more.”81 It seems that laziness and negligence had deep roots in our Saint, if he himself says they are “rooted in my heart;”82 and it has been so for years, “often I have occasion to marvel as I see the great indecisiveness which has been in my soul for so many years. I am sure, my friend, that if I had analyzed in depth the evils that derive from this indecisiveness, already long time ago I would have uprooted this evil.”83 There was in him also a certain superficiality, which he called “bad sensitivity,”84 and which was slowing him down exactly when he was feeling that the “Victory Over Oneself” (a book by Fra Battista da Crema) would be difficult, to write “with deeds and not with the pen.”85
Oftentimes, one of the characteristics of saints lies within their possession of a quality in complete opposition to their natural character. St. Francis, the saint of poverty, by nature was a greedy person; St. Louis had a tendency for impurity; St. Francis de Sales toward anger; St. Claire toward pride. There is nothing to be surprised if our Saint, who is one of the firmest characters in the calendar, became so as a reaction to a negative tendency of his nature. Aiming at the model, “God, who is steadfast and always ready for any good,”86 Anthony Mary was able to acquire a double edge firmness attributed to him by all historians. Reconstructing the stages of this interior task would be of interest. However, Anthony Mary left us no spiritual diary. But, since as any spiritual director in his counsels makes use of his personal experience, let us try to reconstruct his fight plan against lukewarmness through his writings.
2. The Fight and Its Stages Inside Us
Since we are all called to holiness, 87 we have to fight against lukewarmness. There are those who have been specially gifted. These have a better chance to win. To be a Barnabite or an Angelic Anthony Mary demands this disposition.
There are two presuppositions: the natural and the supernatural.
2.1. a. Natural Presuppositions
First of all, there should be a careful discernment with regard to accepting novices. They should “avoid choosing men whose bounty has little value.”88 Instead, they should choose “persons who are intelligent and are especially gifted with very strong will.”89 These are the two qualities every Barnabite should have: a quick intellect and a strong will. Anthony Mary says, “You can admit… every sort (of persons)… on condition that they are well-qualified in fire and in light.”90 “ If, instead, they are intelligent, but lack a very large dose of good will, do not receive them by any means. In fact, if they are good, they make great progress; if they are bad, they bring themselves and others to ruin. You will certainly see, brothers, that the cause of grumbling, lukewarmness, and divisions in communities or congregations, is none other than lack of spiritual light in those of little intelligence, and lack of spiritual fire in those of great intelligence.”91 “Therefore, observe the nature in both categories and try to understand what is lacking, if it is light or fire. You will know this if you will follow what will be said here later, not for a day but for a long time. It is better to admit few subjects who are well-disposed, than to admit many who are badly disposed.”92 Therefore, what is needed to be a Barnabite is to have a “vast natural ability.”93
Once these subjects are accepted, another presupposition is required. It is the attitude of readiness. “Their negligence in making progress”94 is enough reason for their expulsion from the Congregation. This cannot be said to be exaggerated because “this expulsion is done not out of cruelty, but out of mercy, to prevent them from ruining the others with their poisonous pestilence.”95
Of course, negligence must be voluntary. And the Holy Founder makes a clear distinction between “simple negligence” and “fragility.”96 and “voluntary negligence.” Even if voluntary negligence does deal with important things, by the very fact that it is voluntary, it indicates indisposition to holiness.
No one should be afraid to ruin the Congregation, in case these dismissals should become frequent. It is not the number that counts. “Positively you should not bother with subjects who are indisposed and who are not extremely zealous for the Religion and for God's honor. Woe to us, when it would be possible to say with truth, ‘Lord, you have multiplied people, but you have not magnified the joy!’”97
Therefore, three are the qualities required of an authentic son of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria: light, fire, and right intention. Yes, “absolutely good and right intention….good and straightforward intention….grace-filled, highly good, and right intention.”98
2.1.b Supernatural Presuppositions
Every spiritual work must take into account God's help. We would be laboring in vain “if divine grace is not present, which promised to be with us to the end of the world. God's grace is so ready to help us, that it would prefer to accuse us and show us that we are guilty of lacking courage due to our infidelity in embracing great things, rather than we accuse it of failing us.”99 This is why, “It is necessary that you always trust in God’s help and come to know by experience that you are never to be without it.”100
On our part, we should always remain faithful, without being discouraged as the task becomes very demanding. “The devil is used to overpower those who are distracted,”101 and “what seems to be impossible in itself becomes very easy with God’s help if only we do not refuse Him our cooperation and that diligent practical commitment with which He has endowed us.”102 “On our part, therefore, let us try not to fall, because Christ Crucified will take care of the rest.”103
With fervor, let us ask the Lord for the gift of holiness, but, at the same time “come to terms with (our) petitions,”104 turning to God, and acting as if He had already answered our petitions.
3. Stages of the Work
Granted the good natural disposition and the supernatural help of grace, we start the work, which, as any enterprise, progresses by distinctive stages, although not always chronologically cleansing, and edifying.
3.1 Negative Stage
This is the most toilsome and, apparently, the less-fruitful stage. The ground must be cleared of all those “evil weeds” and “bad roots” sown in it, “cut, they will come back to life;”105 This would be a work similar to the work of the peasants; they prune and cut the twigs and the branches from the trees, a work they always have to do. On the contrary, eradicating the roots of the twigs formed by original sin requires great effort, which must be conducted both on the personal level and on the community level.
3.1.a Community Life
Our Holy Founder insists that the whole Community should be initiated to fervor; indeed, fervor should be encouraged and facilitated among the members. “Were it necessary for the Visitor to engage in the correction of defects, let him be advised that offenders should not be cured of their defects by means of jail or other punishments, but rather by striving to destroy the roots of their defects106 “For instance, if someone complains, the Visitor should avoid giving orders such as: ‘If someone complains, do this penance,’ but rather the Visitor should first examine whether there is a just cause for the complaint. If there is none, he should simply admonish the complainer, as it has been said in the chapter on punishments and penances. If he finds a just cause, he has to make sure that it would never happen again. Always keep in mind that every time there is a complaint, surely something is wrong, either in the cause or in the effect.”107
3.1.b. Personal Life
Once the Community has been set, each member then gets to work on his interior life. To avoid faults and their causes is the least a Religious could do; and anyone who purposely stops at this stage, shows he deliberately renounces holiness, because one of the sure signs of lukewarmness is to “care more about cutting vicious acts and deeds, rather than trying to eradicate their roots.”108 It is a wasted effort! The vices are like roots that need to be eradicated. “The farmers, by plucking up the roots of the trees, will someday stop pruning and with little effort will get the fruit of the earth without thorns. So those who go to confession must insist on eradicating the roots of their vices.”109 How?
Build some good habits; do always the opposite of what is suggested by egoism. “For example, pride, the root of every sin,110 is eradicated by the profound humility of a person who thirsts for infamies and hungers for mockeries. You will eradicate the sin of gluttony by voluntary poverty, which allows only necessary things.”111 “Do you want contrition? Do not follow distractions. Do you want humility? Embrace childlikeness willingly, taste and have delight in derision, and rejoice in abject things. Do you want patience? Desire tribulations and pain, because patience is not given without tribulations and pain.”112
We have to open up our inner difficulties so that we may be guided and enlightened. This was very common among those who came before us, and it has reached us only under the form of the chapters of faults and of the censures, which have been integrated in the revision of life. The “root of one’s faults is uprooted only by confessing them: to those who know how to cure wounds with ointment. Therefore, each of you, brothers, should know that he who will not manifest his spiritual illness because he is ashamed, or because he suspects that the doctors are not capable, or because he vainly hopes to confess it later on, I tell you, will inevitably fall into more serious and visible faults.”113
In conclusion, “the more you get rid of the causes and roots of sin, with their radical and total elimination, the lesser you will be oppressed by the thorns of sins, and you will have an unsullied and peaceful conscience (as much as it is possible in this life) and will reap the fruits of a pure mind.”114
3.2. Positive Stage
Once the ground has been freed, one begins the construction work; it is the positive stage where the two human qualities, the mind and the heart, strengthen and guide, in a supernatural way, the person and his activities.
3.2. a. The Mind
Anthony Mary insists upon the education of the mind, or in his own words, “to direct the mind.”115 To fulfill one’s religious duties is less than nothing; one, rather, must “ponder well over the reason for which these (duties) have been introduced, rather than think they exist only for their own sake.”116 “He should strive not only to plant the good morals but their roots as well. Afterwards he must cultivate them. It is not enough to exhort persons to be patient, humble, chaste, and so on, simply because these virtues are useful to them. He is to engrave in their souls the reasons for embedding those virtues in themselves. Let him, then, diligently give the reasons why good religious morals should be implanted, rather than merely say: “You must acquire this virtue.”117
3.2. b. The Heart
Once the mind is oriented, then, every effort has to be given to empower the heart, so that its impulses may move from the instinctive stage to the reflective stage. At first, our Saint says, there will be in the soul a stage of fury, which stops at the exterior devotion thinking to reach heaven in one day. Once this stage is passed, another stage has to be faced, where the will is subjected to frequent provocations.
Finally, comes the stage of fervor and true devotion, a stage of “a will ready for the things of God.”118 This phrase is enough to show how our Holy Founder, even in the fight against lukewarmness, is passionate about it. For him, perfect charity is not simply a pious and ardent inner impulse but is a “will ready” to be expressed in fruitful activities.
This stage of attentive openness to the Spirit is verified by periodic inner trials, which aim at purifying and strengthening us. We should learn “to understand whether in time of aridity (we) progress less than in time of such exterior fervor or, rather, even without such fervor, (we) become wholly and truly inflamed with interior fervor, and experience spiritual growth.”119 Indeed, the time of aridity is the time most suited to acquire true love and union with God. “Look at yourself carefully if the seed of good will is still alive in you. If it is not, do not be afraid. Do not be disheartened because you lack exterior compunction, or as we say, devotion, because God is with you more truly than He is with those who are consoled. Be aware that it is the task of a truly generous person to serve without reward and to fight without provisions or pay. Therefore, believe firmly that, by so persevering, you will grow in spirit and fervor”120
3.2.c. Giving Power
At this point, it would seem that the Lord would be too displeased about us. How about taking easy a little. The Holy Founder intervenes, with the most genial aspect of his spiritual physiognomy, that the achieved perfection is for us a possibility and, therefore, it is a responsibility to be immersed in God. Every height is a goal to be achieved; every conquest a new beginning. “Not to go forward on the way to God, and to stand still, is indeed to go backward”121 because “the summit of sanctification, (is) the only thing capable of transforming the heart into a decorated temple of God,”122 and its summit constitute the nuptial dress needed to enter the house of the Lord.123
To be able one day to sit at the banquet of the Kingdom with this nuptial dress, one thing is required: to hate moments of rest. “You must resolve to go always forward and towards perfect things ... (otherwise) right away you will find lukewarmness at your door.”124
This is true for the novices, “Teach the novices not only how to keep their novitiate fervor but also how to increase it by reminding them that “not to go forward is to go backward;”125 and “Teach (them) to have a true love and desire for total perfection. What use would it be for them to have many virtues and then lack one? And also, what use would it be for them to have all virtues and then not care for their perfection? Anyone who finds himself in this situation, should acknowledge that he does not want to honor God as much as he can.”126
This is true also and especially for the most advanced, “Try always to increase what you have already started in your self and in others, because the summit of perfection is infinite. So, avoid thinking that what you have started is enough.”127
Both novices and those advanced must keep in mind that all this is neither their gift to God nor a simple fulfillment of a duty, but indeed a true grace from the Lord. “Rise as much as you can, because you are more and more a debtor! Never let anyone of the novices, and even anyone of our brothers, thinks to have done much, even if he has a burning desire for the above-mentioned virtues, because the more we pay, the more debtors we remain.”128 Although it is easy to understand the idea, it is better to contemplate it with the words of Fra Battista da Crema, the great director of souls, who gave and cultivated in Anthony Mary what he is now asking from his children, “The more man acts in a virtuous way, the greater gifts and graces he receives from God, and in receiving them he becomes even more a debtor. Therefore, by acting with great fervor, man receives new grace; without this grace he could not operate. Thus, man’s debt increases when he does what is good.”
The Holy Founder, on January 1531, thus spoke to his first companions, “Come then, brothers! If up to this time, irresoluteness and, side by side with it, negligence have taken hold of our souls, let us get rid of them; and let us run like madmen not only toward God but also toward our neighbors.”129Six years later, looking at the first group of his religious families, he was praying, “Infinite thanks to you, Lord, for the generous progeny you have given me.”130 Today, the Holy Founder, in front of the throne of God, continues to pray for his children that their life might be enriched with “a stable and holy fervor, nourished by life-giving water and enriched by new vigor.”131 We conclude, “We have taken care to provide you with these few notes; if you will really observe and execute them, we hope they will lead you to perfection, especially helping you to avoid lukewarmness. To the praise and honor of Jesus Christ who died on earth and now reigns alive in heaven. Amen.”132
1Letter [Lt] X, 50
2Sermon [Sr] IV, 105-106
3Sermon [Sr] VI, 136
4Sr VI, 136
6 ibid. 137
7Constitutions, [Cs] XII, 182
8 Cs XVII, 194-195
9Letter [Lt] II, 55
13cf. Eph 4: 13-15
14cf. Mt 5:48
15Lt XI, 79-80, USA Ed
17Mt 19:12, Sr VI, 136
18cf. 1 Cor 7:25
19Sr VI, 149, USA Ed
20Sr VI, 149, USA Ed
21cf. Summa Theol., II II 189 1
22Sr VI, 136-137
23 cf. Mt 13:47
24 Lt II; XI; Cs 166, 180, 185,200
25Sr II, 84
26Sr VI, 137
29Sr II, 85
31cf. Lk 19:8
32cf. Lk 7:50
34Sr VI, 137
35cf. Lk 7:50, 19: 8; Mk 15:40-41
37Cs X, 168
38Cs X, 163, USA Ed
39Sr VI, 137
40Lt II, 17-18
42Sr VI, 150-151, USA Ed
44Letter [Lt] II, 19
45Sr V, 121
46Lt III, 24
47Lt II, 34, USA Ed
48Sr VI, 151, USA Ed
50Sr VI, 132
51cf. Sr VI, 139
52Sr V, 128; cf. Sr VI, 133
53Lt V, 33
55Bernard, Ep. 385, 1 = PL 182, 587-588
56Sr VI, 151, USA Ed
57Lt V, 32
58Lt V, 33
59Lt VII, 41
60cf. Lt IV, 29-30
611 Tim 3: 15
62Lt VII, 42
632 Cor 6: 11-13
65Lt VII, 42
66Lt V, 33
67Lt XI, 56
68Lt X, 52
69Lt XI, 81, USA Ed
70Lt X, 51
71Lt II, 19
72Cs XVII, 191
73Cs XVIII, 197
74cf. Cs XVIII, 197
75cf. Cs IX, 166
77cf. ibid. 56
79Sr II, 114, USA Ed
80Lt II, 36, USAEd
81Lt I, 30,USA Ed
82Lt II, 20
83Lt II, 18
84Lt I, 15
85Lt I, 16
86Lt II, 17
87Lumen Gentium 11, 41-42
88Constitutions XVIII, 202
90Cs XI; 172
91Cs XI; 165-166, USA Ed
92Cs XI; 172
93Cs XII, 175
94Cs XIV, 185-186
97Cs XIV, 187
98Cs XVIII, 186, USA Ed
99 ibid., 196
100Cs XVIII, 187, USA Ed
101(Cs VII, 163),
102Letter III, 40, USA Ed
103Lt 4, 29
104Cs X, 170, 176
105Cs XIX, 204
106Cs XIX, 189, USA Ed
107Cs XIX, 203-204
108Cs XVII, 195
109Cs XII, 178
1101 Tim 6:10
111Cs XII, 178
113Cs XIII, 184
114Cs XII, 178-179
115Cs XIX, 204
116Cs XII, 183
117Cs XIX, 190, USA Ed
118Cs XII, 182
119Cs XII, 173, USA Ed
120Cs XII, 182
121Sr VI, 151, USA Ed
122Sr III, 98
123cf. Cs XII, 180
124Cs XVIII, 200
125Cs XII, 172, USA Ed
127Cs XVIII, 200
128Cs XII, 183
129Letter, II, 37, USA Ed
130Letter, V, 32
132Cs XVIII, 202